Learn Spanish in Cusco and live like a local
The beautiful city of Cusco received over 3 million tourists a year before the pandemic and is an excellent destination for a Spanish language course in Peru. In the beautiful city centre, you find excellent restaurants, cosy cafes, travel agencies, shops and clubs to meet the needs of the many travellers. However, this is not the life that the local people of Cusco live, and if you study Spanish in Peru and live in Cusco for some time, you are not a typical tourist anymore. The local life is much more interesting, more authentic and, best of all, cheaper. This blog will teach you Cusco through the eyes of the locals and will show you How to Learn Spanish in Cusco and live like a local.
Eating in the Historical Center of Cusco?
If you are travelling in Peru, you have plenty of opportunities to eat and drink amazing Peruvian food. In the historical city centre of Cusco, you find excellent and trendy restaurants for different budgets. However, sometimes prices adjusted to the tourists instead of the locals. Therefore, you won’t see many locals eating in many restaurants.
So, where do they go? Well, they have their own places and much of them are very good! First if all, many eat closer to their homes, or at the Avenida de la Cultura; not around the Plaza de Armas or in San Blas. All over Cusco you find amazing typical Peruvian food, from Lomo Saltado to Chincharon and from Cerviche to Cuy for great prices. And you will certainly get great value for your money! The portions are often bigger than in the historical centre while you pay less. By going to eat outside of the centre you also engage with the locals, and it’s the perfect way to learn Spanish during your stay in Cusco. Did you know you can find some of those local-orientated restaurants nearby our Spanish school, even though we are located in downtown Cusco? You can need to walk in the opposite direction 🙂
So once your gringo stomachs have adjusted to Cusco, you are ready to explore more and more of the lovely Peruvian local cuisine. One you know the hotspots, you can even frequently indulging in Peruvian street food.
We have a few tips from our ex-students:
- Yola – A favorite lunch spot for many. Yola offers all of the best local Peruvian dishes for low prices and some very healthy portions (seriously, order a medio plato). However, this place is very popular with the locals as well, so sometimes they can run out of some of the more popular dishes during the lunch rush.
- Punto Mar Cevichería – You might be surprised but many students turn into Peruvian ceviche fanatics. This delicious seafood restaurant, located out in the Magisterio neighborhood, offers a wide variety of different types of ceviche and other Peruvian seafood dishes, like tacu tacu.
- La Bodega 138 – This restaurant has the best pizza in town! Not only does it have the classics, like a Margarita pizza, but also more funky pizzas, including one that has kiwi on it. La Bodega also has a great selection of local beers and has the perfect ambiance for a Friday night post-work gathering. Here you find both locals, expats, Spanish students and travelers.
Best Restaurants in Cusco: a Food Guide
Buy Where the Locals Buy
Grocery shopping in Cusco is a little more involved than just hitting up your local Trader Joe´s. Often to find all of the essentials, you might have to visit more than one place. Local people mostly buy from the local market and then, the non-perishables and meat from a supermarket.
Cusco knows many typical Peruvian markets, e.g. the Mercado San Pedro near the Plaza de Armas or the painteresque Mercado San Blas – a two-minute walk from our Spanish School in Cusco. However, more and more, those once local markets focus more on tourists, leading to a price increase and the presence of many souvenir shops.
Fortunately there is another market that is even more local and with an even wider variety of food. This place is called the Mercado Wanchaq, and its solid fruity smell greets visitors from a distance. So if you want to buy some fruits for a sunny afternoon or if you want to prepare a kingly supper, this is the place to go!
When at the market, it´s all about finding your particular vendors and proving yourself to be a loyal costumer to their stand and establishing a relationship with them; you want to become their ‘casero’. In turn, the vendors will reward your loyalty by giving you lower prices or un aumento, meaning extra food for the price of less!
As for the grocery stores in Cusco, here is a list of a few of the stores:
- Orion – While this grocery store has two locations close to the city center of Cusco, it usually doesn´t have as many things as some of the other grocery stores. However, what it lacks in product, it makes up for in convenience.
- La Canasta – This grocery chain has a couple of different locations a little outside of the city center. That being said, it has pretty much everything, included some food products imported from other countries (yes, that means Tabasco sauce). If you live in the center, expect to take a bus or taxi to get here.
- Plaza Vea – This is the grocery store located in Cusco´s one and only mall (Real Plaza, see below). Prices here are a big higher, but just like in La Canasta, you can find a wide variety of imported food and just about anything else you would need for your house. Think Peruvian Target! Again, this store will require some navigating in bus or taxi from the city center (see below)
Do you need some new clothes but you are done with alpaca sweaters and hippie pants? Or do you need some electronics or other stuff? Let’s see where to the local people buy.
Shopping Malls in Cusco
Of course, there are many different shops in the different neighborhoods in Cusco – you find some down Avenida del Sol, Avda. de la Cultura and others. But did you know Cusco has it’s very down shopping mall? It’s called Real Plaza, and you have to take a bus or a taxi to get there (Avda. Collasuyo, 10 soles by taxi).
Real Plaza is a very nice, modern mall opened a few years ago. There are quite a few American shops and restaurants. In 2021 and 2022, you have to show your COVID-19 vaccination card at the door to get in. There is also a very well-stocked Plaza Vea Supermarket and a multiplex cinema.
Another ‘shopping mall Cusco Style’ is El Molino, the black market. Many tourists do not know this place, but they sell everything, from leather shoes to electronics and from room decoration to kitchen equipment. This indoor market is even bigger than the famous San Pedro Market, and the prices are low. It is easy to be amazed by the wide variety of goods offered; thus, this is a perfect place to shop in Cusco.
Cheer Up the Local Soccer Team
If you want to be part of the local community, why not visit a local football game? Sports unite people around the world. Luckily, there are countless bars in Cusco where you can check out the results of ‘your’ team, whether it is FC Barcelona, Manchester United or Ajax. However, even though checking a football game in a bar might be fun, it is more fun to attend a real football match in Cusco!
To wit, the regional team of Cusco has a team playing in the highest Peruvian division, and there is a stadium in Cusco. Here you can find yourself between the fans of ‘Club Sportivo Cienciano’ and cheer up the old Inca team! Latin American fans are even more fanatic than their European counterparts, so an unforgettable experience is guaranteed!
Are you interested in visiting a local football game? The stadium of Club Sportivo Cienciano, Stadio Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, can be reached by a twenty-minute walk from the central Plaza the Armas. Unfortunately, it is not possible to buy tickets online beforehand, but it is easy to buy a ticket at a ticket counter at the stadium. The best thing is: that attending a game only costs approximately 25 Peruvian Soles!
More information about attending a football game in Cusco.
Pastimes: what to do in Cusco after Spanish class
Take Daytrips Off-The-Beaten-Track
Is exploring Peru only reserved for wealthy Peruvians and tourists? You might think so when you see the prices of adventure tours or the train tours to Machu Picchu. However, there are definitely great off-the-beaten-track tours and treks you can do in the surroundings of Cusco, for instance if you head south in the direction of San Jerónimo, but also in the Sacred Valley and nearby Cusco, for instance behind Sacsahuyaman.
Hiking in Peru is a slightly different concept than in the US, because in Cusco there aren´t many marked trails or official trailheads. You find out about different spots to hike in the Cusco area by word of mouth, on Facebook, or simply by getting out and following a trail* It makes everything truly an adventure and you never know what cool things there are to discover out there. There are some beautiful Off-The-Beaten-Track hikes.
However, there are many other things to see and do in Cusco besides hiking.
Here is a list of some nice things you can do in Cusco without spending a week’s budget on a day tourist day tour:
- Picnicking up at Sacsayhuaman/Cristo Blanco – There´s plenty of local families that do this on days when the weather is nice. It´s great to get out of the city without going too far and enjoying the view of the ruins.
- Visiting the Green Market in Pisac – This market happens every Saturday in Pisac (not be confused with the daily artisanal market in Pisac). This is one of the only places you can get bagels in the Cusco region. The market also great local honey, hummus, cream cheese, among other things like soaps and handmade goods.
- Going to the Cervecería Valley Sacred (Sacred Valley Brewing Company) – Many people are quite surprised that there is a craft brewery in the Cusco area and one that is award-winning nonetheless. Visiting the brewery is worth the hour and a half voyage from Cusco because they make it an experience. The brewery has not only great beer, but also good food, an outdoor seating area with lawn games, and live music. It is also close to some awesome hikes, as well as the ruins of Ollantaytambo, and a super fun zip line, if you really need another excuse to get yourself out there besides excellent beer.
- Taking overnight camping trips in the Sacred Valley – As with hiking in the region, there are many great undiscovered camping spots all around the Cusco area. The Sacred Valley is very pleasant because it is generally warmer than Cusco. Many local families there will even let you camp on their land, if you pay them a few soles.
So even though Rainbow Mountains and the Salkantay trek are stunning trips, if you spend more time in Cusco learning Spanish, there are certainly many other options for all the other weekends left. There are beautiful places and villages to be discovered for our Spanish students that want to stay away from the tourist tracks.*
Make sure you go with local people, and do good research, take time to prepare, know the route, make sure you don’t get lost. There are several groups on Facebook about hiking in the Cusco area.
Learn Spanish in Cusco and live like a local
Learn Spanish in Cusco and live like a local
If you sign up for a Spanish course in Cusco, you won’t regret it. The city is full of live and culture and there is so much you can do. In this post, we gave you some inside tip and tricks on how to Learn Spanish in Cusco and live like a local.
The experience of living in foreign country to anyone who wants to get out and explore the world and learn a language is very valuable. It offers you a much deeper understanding of a new culture and worldview than your own. And as for places to live abroad and learn Spanish, Cusco simply can´t be beat! From the rich Peruvian history and ruins, to the delicious Peruvian food, vibrant nightlife in Cusco, and spectacular scenery, Cusco is a one of a kind city that will forever hold a special place in many, many hearts.
Do you want to learn more about Learning Spanish while living in Cusco?
At AMAUTA Spanish School you can take a Spanish group course in Cusco (4 hours per day) and live with a local host family. After Spanish classes, there is time for social and cultural activities and for exploring the city!